RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's governor says he will propose new legislation aimed at strengthening government oversight of coal ash dumps following the massive spill at a Duke Energy plant that coated 70 miles of the Dan River in toxic sludge.
Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that his plan would result in the "conversion or closure" of the dumps and close legal loopholes that allowed the nation's largest electricity company to avoid cleaning up groundwater contamination leaching from unlined ash pits at 14 coal-fired power plants across the state.
But environmental groups quickly criticized the governor's plan, which would not require Duke to move its leaky coal ash dumps away from rivers and lakes.
McCrory declined to discuss key details about his proposal at an event in Raleigh on Wednesday, but called it "innovative" and "aggressive." The governor said his plan would address an issue unresolved for decades.
"I'm proud to be the administration that has a plan that we've put forward," McCrory said. "There's no doubt major legislation action ... needs to be taken."
McCrory said he will propose adding more employees at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to ensure dam inspections statewide are done on a more routine basis. Positions at the state agency have been cut sharply in recent years.
Environmentalists are pushing McCrory's administration to use what they say is the state's existing legal authority to require Duke to haul more than 100 million tons of the toxic ash away from waterways to lined landfills licensed to handle hazardous waste. Coal ash contains numerous chemicals that are harmful to people and wildlife, including arsenic, mercury and lead.
In a letter to the state last month, Duke CEO Lynn Good said the company would remove the ash from its dumps at the Dan River plant and another plant while the company studies options at its remaining sites. Among those options is draining contaminated water from the pits and then covering the remaining ash with soil and giant tarps.
"Duke Energy looks forward to working constructively with the governor, lawmakers and regulators to determine the best coal ash management policies for North Carolina," company spokesman Dave Scanzoni said Wednesday. "Duke Energy has proposed a comprehensive ash management plan with both near-term and long-term actions that will address all retired sites, as well as pond management at active sites, in an environmentally sound way."
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